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Running for the donut

The last two miles, the most prominent thing on my mind was a donut.

At the start of the St. Catharine's Half Marathon on Sunday I noticed the setup of the post race "recovery zone" as the sign labeled it. Runners got to fill bags up with good things, like fruit and pita bread and organic granola bars.

And at the end of the table were donuts.

It was one of the silly thoughts that got me through the final part of the run. After a summer of racing and a year of really healthy eating, I was going to shove a donut in my face as quickly as possible. I even used profanity to describe my donut desire while on the run.

Granted, it's not like I haven't had a donut in years. After swimming the mile at Carly's Crossing I shoved two Krispy Kremes in my mouth -- largely because the other food choice was a hotdog or hamburger, neither of which I eat.

This amused my friend Joe who was with me: "Are those healthy vegetarian donuts?"

OK. Point taken. But I was hungry.

As I dreamed of my donut I thought of the other culinary treats I was going to give myself, including, but not limited to, any type of apple pie/strudel/crumble dessert  and L.A. Cinnamon Bread French Toast. Again, it's not that I deprived myself during training -- just that certain things I categorized as luxuries.

And now is the time to cash in.

When I looked at my training plan to see how my coach was starting off my "off-season" workouts I noticed something unusual -- an entire rest week.

A whole week off? Was she serious? I didn't comprehend.

"You have two weeks off," she told me. "But your homework is to think of three things you accomplished this year and three things you accomplished that you didn't expect to."

I'll be contemplating that over my french toast breakfast.

Race Report: Half Marathon

Really? A half marathon?

When my friend Joe suggested that I could indeed run 13.1 mile, I thought he might be drinking some weird kind of Koolaid. Then I brought it up to my tri coach, Mary. "Sign up!" she said. "You'll be ready."

But I hadn't trained for long distance running. I had trained for basically cross-training races.

Still, Sunday morning my dear friend Joe and I were driving up to St. Catharines in the rain for the annual Run for the Grapes half marathon.

By the time we got to the starting line, I was full of doubt.

"Do you really think I can do this?" I asked Joe.

"I know you can do this," he said.

"Why do you think I can do this?" I replied.

Yes. I was THAT insecure.

We started off at a light pace which of course felt OK, but I made the mistake of wearing my watch. At the first 5K I noted that I wasn't running my 5K pace.

"Amy, you're not supposed to run your 5K pace," Joe said. "You shouldn't be near it. You're not running a 5K."

Fair and valid point. But there was a three-hour cutoff and I was uncertain I'd make it. My goal time was two and a half hours. My personal "ideal" time was 2 hours and 20 minutes. My coach thought I could do it in about 2 hours and 15 minutes, but she tends to set slightly aggressive goals.

The course was nice, starting through a development then out onto a farm road. We wrapped back around to run through some vineyards where the smell of grapes was lush and thick. I took in the scenery and made slight comments to Joe, who was patiently running my pace beside me.

"Are you sure you don't want to just run your race?" I had asked him about a million times before, and even during, the race. Joe has run a few marathons and half marathons before and has had an incredible summer setting about six different PRs. He could easily have taken this race in a PR about 40 minutes faster than I could run it.

But nope, he wanted to see me through my first half marathon.

Through this journey this summer I've learned you can meet some pretty special people. And I've certainly meet plenty who have taken that inkling of doubt which creeps back into my head from time to time and have squashed it for me. For that, I am ever grateful.

The one downfall of the half marathon in Ontario -- all the markers were in kilometers. I had my head set on running 13.1 miles so I needed to shift my frame of reference. We figured we were running about four 5Ks during the race, so I mentally broke it down that way.

When I got to 15K, I needed some mathematical help. I had run the Fleet Feet 15K before, which was 9.3 miles. I knew that today I was running 13.1 miles. So what's the math? I asked Joe.

He started calculating kilometers.

"No, do the math," I insisted. "I can't do the math right now. Or ever really."

"I'm trying to," he said and I patiently waited while he went through the kilometers again.

"Yeah, but 13.1 minutes 9.3 is how many miles?" I asked again. "Do the math for me!"

Joe laughed. Just run.

My race strategy felt good. I had taken some shot blocks with me. They're similar to the gels that runners use but are gummy squares instead. For me, it felt more like getting a bit of food and I could space them out better than taking an entire gel. At each water station I grabbed a cup of water, walked for 20 to 30 seconds as I sipped, then started running again.

There were about 4 kilometers left to run and my legs were burning. It felt like the wizard had come and hit them repeatedly with a paddle. Settle into the pain, I thought. You're almost home.

As we approached downtown St. Catharines I started to cry just a bit. I was going to do this. Really. I was going to finish. The entire summer was now over and six triathlons and a half marathon later I am such a stronger person.

I crossed the line in 2 hours and 16 minutes, was handed a bottle of water and a finisher's medal.

I'm wearing that medal all week long as a way to celebrate what I've accomplished and as a reminder that there's no telling what we can achieve when we stop calculating and just decide to be our true selves.

Race Report: Finger Lakes

For my first five triathlons, I didn't wear a watch.

I figured the kind people of the scoring company would take care of telling me how long it took to swim, bike and run. And the Finger Lakes Triathlon this past Sunday was a Score-This! event so surely I had no need to worry about my time.

In fact, why worry about my time at all? I'm in this for fun. Then I realized that part of the fun is seeing how you do against yourself. Some people take that challenge of besting themselves (and then winning spots in the podium after the race) a bit too seriously. And it's so easy to fall into that trap of defining your success based on where you finish in relation to the field and how you do compared to your past times.

In a sprint triathlon it's difficult (if not impossible) to compare races. The distances were different in each of the six races I completed this summer, not to mention other variables, like the course (was the water choppy? was the bike or run course hilly?) and the weather (hot and humid or cool and windy?)

Still, despite all of that disclaimer, I would like to say that at the Finger Lakes Tri in Canandaigua I wore a watch set a personal record.

Yes, that was me, pulling back the sleeve of my wetsuit as I ran out of the water checking to see what my time was. I was hoping to finish the 750 meter swim in 30 minutes and I felt pretty good in the water, despite needing a 30 second rest on the front end of a kayak to catch my breath.

The time on my watch read: 21 minutes.

My smile was so big I heard spectators commenting on it.

Regular readers of my training blog, and those closest to me, have witness my struggle with the swim. I started from scratch in November and continued to have a series of ups and downs -- moments when I thought I would never be able to swim and times when I felt connected and gliding.

Sunday morning, I started my usual round of nervousness which translated into trepidation about the swim.

Then I picked up a book of quotes I have and found this one from Dr. Wayne Dyer (of PBS special fame):

"Don't let emotions immobilize you. View them as choices."

I thought about this for a moment. The energy I was feeling I thought of as nerves and worry and being scared. So instead, I tried to choose my emotion ... that energy instead was excitement. Excitement about getting to a triathlon -- the game part of all that training. Excitement to see my new friends and laugh with them. Excitement to see my mom and dad as I come triumphantly out of the water. Excitement to celebrate all that I've accomplished in less than a year.

Every time I thought I felt "nerves" I recast it as excitement.

And it seemed to work just fine.

My official swim time was 22:23 -- which included my run from the beach back to transition where the timing mats were.

I felt strong on the bike, as I usually do. Actually I was in such a state of joy about my swim that a few times on the bike I had to tell myself to stop daydreaming and start peddling harder! I finished the 13.6 miles in 47:17 -- a bit slower than I had hoped but still a steady 17.7 mile-per-hour average.

I never expect great things on the run since running is also new to me this year (but overshadowed by my introduction to swimming because, well, you can't drown while running) but I wanted to hold about a 10-minute mile pace. That's slower than my pace during a 5K race, but remember, I didn't swim and bike before the starting line at the Laughlin's 5K in downtown Buffalo a few weekends ago.

Looking at my watch at the mile markers, I could see I was doing a good job of holding close to 10 minute miles (this was the real reason why I decided to wear my watch in the first place -- to help me pace my run). I finished the 5K leg in 31:22 for a pace of 10:07.

Not too bad.

The final time (including slow transitions because it was cold and damp and, well, I just took my time a bit) for my final triathlon was 1hour, 44 minutes and 59 seconds. That beat my previous best time for a race of similar distance by about five minutes.

Cue the happy dance.

Mostly though, I was smiling the entire time I was out there, happy to be able to be swimming, biking and running and enjoying the day -- coolness and all.

Oh, if you must know, I placed 284 overall out of 457, 104 out of 223 women, and 24th out of 39 in my age group.

The next and final task of the summer -- my first half marathon on Sunday.

The last bit of race prep

My race strategy for tomorrow is pretty darn simple.

My coach wants me to stay in control in the swim, push my strength (the bike) and push the final mile of the run.

Pretty uncomplicated and yet I still feel a bit like I did before my first race in Keuka ... an uneasy mixture of excitement and nervousness.

I suppose that factor never really goes away. Being a bit nervous is actually a good thing and one way of defining competition is performing a skill while dealing with nerves. The adrenaline takes you through a lot and can get you through the difficult parts -- like the start of the swim. The key for me seems to be controlling the adrenaline and not getting so pumped up that I forget how to actually swim.

Control and relax.

This week has been an extremely light training week with two complete days off and under four hours of workouts leading up to the race. This morning I did a light 20 minute bike ride followed by an easy-paced 10-minute run.

Physically I feel ready to go.

Now it's time to put it all together, to have fun and to remember just how far I've come since that first triathlon on June 8.

Lance, Lance and some swimming

Because, really, can we get enough of the Lance Armstrong return to cycling story?

OK, I can't.

VeloNews published an interview with Chris Carmichael -- American's most well-known cycling coach who worked with Armstrong in the past. Carmichael said he originally tried to talk Lance out of the come back, recalling all too well what happened when Greg LeMond tried to come back after win three Tour de France titles -- he climbed into the team car and abandoned the race.

But Carmichael is on board with the Armstrong plan and eager to see what he does come next July.

In other cycling news, a meeting of the minds begins today in Madrid between UCI and the top professional teams. There has been division in the pro cycling community in recent years as the development of the ProTour calendar left off some races and shutout some teams.

Meanwhile, if you think you're having a bad day in the pool, think of Colleen Blair of Scotland who completed a 23-mile swim from Ireland to Scotland in 15 hours and 25 minutes. He biggest difficulty -- the jellyfish.

Thankfully that won't be a problem for me on Sunday when I swim a mere 750 meters in the clear, shallow waters of Canandaigua Lake.

On Kenyan cyclists and Ryan Lochte

As my scrapped up forearm heals nicely (at least it will make me look tough for Sunday's grand finale Finger Lakes Triathlon) I trolled the Internet for interesting stories since my training volume is pretty low this week.

Of particular interest was an article in the London Guardian about Kenyan cyclists. While African runners have dominated international distance running, no one from those countries has ever been a professional cyclist. That may be slowly changing. As the piece explains, last month two amateur Kenyan cyclists won a time trial on the Alpe D'Huez, a blue chip stage finish of the Tour de France. It might not be too long before an African rider becomes part of a pro team and rides in the Tour.

Meanwhile, amidst all the Michael Phelps hype, Ryan Lochte is making the media rounds albeit with less hype. Lochte won two gold and two bronze medals in Beijing but still is best known as Michael Phelps best friend, training partner and rival. Lochte is involved with a charity for the first time, being the national spokesman for the Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy group and apparently is interested in being a fashion designer.

My injury (or how I fell while running slow)

I've never claimed to be the most coordinated girl on the block. Heck, I once got hurt playing miniature golf. (Granted I was goofing around, using the edges of the course as a balance beam, but still, it was a mini-golf injury).

Which is why I have kept mum on the topic of injuries as much as possible this summer. If anyone was going to get hurt training for her first triathlon, it would be me. I did have some knee issues back in June, but a tapered workout schedule plus some better flexibility exercises and I was quickly back in business.

Then came yesterday.

I was out for my easy 30 minute run and two blocks from home I stumbled over some tree branches in the sidewalk.

The fall came in super slow motion.

You've heard of someone falling gracefully?

Yeah, that totally was not me.

I skinned my right knee slightly but really did a number on my right forearm, skinning it enough to cause some blood pooling on my arm.

It didn't look too bad. Everything else felt good. So I finished my run.

The injury certainly won't keep me out of Sunday's Finger Lakes Triathlon, but I will have to come up with a better bandaging plan as my open water swim last night stung a bit -- even with my injury encased in my wetsuit.

Taper week and cycling news

My first season of triathlon closes on Sunday when I compete in the Finger Lakes Triathlon in Canandaigua. Again, I'll be tackling the sprint distance which for this race is a 750-meter swim, a 13-mile bike (with two small hills on the route) and the typical 5K.

This week of training is a big taper week. I have two (yes, count 'em, two) days off from training. Today's workout includes 30 minutes of continuous swimming (no crazy sets or distances, just 30 minutes of moving in the water) along with an easy-paced 30 minute run. The gear-down should keep me fresh and focused. Again, the actual sprint distances have varied in each of the five races I've completed this summer, so it's difficult to judge where No. 6 lands. But it should be safe to say that if I swim in the open water, as opposed to panic my way through the open water, the race will be one of my best of the season.

Meanwhile, for those of you who think cycling is just a Tour de France thing, American Christian Vande Velde won the won the Tour of Missouri this past weekend, having to hold off some big-name competition in the general classification competition.

And for those who can't get enough Lance news, Armstrong put aside his road bike for a day an participated in a mountain bike fund raising event in Colorado.

Early end in Rochester and J-Lo update

There have been times during races when I have wished for it to rain. Please, Mother Nature, just let the drizzle start and end the humidity that's making me feel puffy and slow.

Luckily for me, that feeling has only surfaced during a 5K.

This weekend, runners felt the effects of the late summer heat and humidity in Rochester where organizers shut down the Preferred Care Rochester Marathon at mile 20 on Sunday. Luckily for those who trained for it and made this marathon their prime race of the year had options to finish. Organizers didn't start closing the course until noon, when reportedly there were fewer than 100 runners left on the course. Additionally, the Democrat and Chronicle reported that those left on the course were given the choice to finish the race or hop onto a shuttle bus.

The conditions weren't nearly so bad for me on Saturday morning when I ran in the Laughlin's 5K to benefit Make a Wish Foundation. In fact, though it was a bit muggy in downtown Buffalo, I ran a personal best time of 29:09 and took second place in my age group. That meant "hardware" for the first time. OK, well, technically it was my second time earning a top place in my age group. In looking back at my race results, I noticed I finished third at the Lisa's Legacy Race back in May but circumstances forced me to leave the post-race party early.I think I may have gotten an award there, but I'll never know.

And the "hardware" of Laughlin's 5K was actually just a race number belt -- the kind you use to hold to hold your race number (in lieu of safety pins on your t-shirt) and to carry a few extra gels for longer runs. It's nice, don't get me wrong, and I'm overwhelming pleased with my PR and age group finish. But, quite frankly, for my first collected piece of hardware I would have liked a medal or trophy to display to one and all. Instead, I'll frame my race number belt. That will be a good conversation starter.

Finally, for all those who were eagerly awaiting the results of the 2008 Nautica Malibu Triathlon, it appears that Jennifer Lopez doesn't look any better in a wet suit than the rest of us. She finished the short course -- a half mile swim, 18-mile bike ride and 4-mile run in two hours, 23 minutes and 58 seconds. I don't have her splits, but I'm confident at this point, I could take her. Or at least, make a race of it.

To speculate on Lance's return

Ah, what to make of Lance Armstrong's announcement that he will end his three years of retirement to attempt to win his eight Tour de France?

Part of me roots for Lance. Part of me seriously wonders what his motivations are.

For one, the French are not particularly pleased with the news. The Associated Press characterized Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme as "cool" on the idea of the American's return. Which in turn makes me want to see Lance kick some yellow jersey butt.

Then there is the possibility of being prompted merely to clean up his name and prove that he indeed did win his record-setting seven titles without performance enhancing drugs. Armstrong has vowed to participate in more stringent and public tests than are required by international cycling governing bodies. Still, that won't necessarily convince the doubters who feel he cheated the system during his Tour de France reign.

More to the point, what happens if Lance doesn't succeed at winning the Tour in 2009? Or worse yet, doesn't even get on the podium? He certainly is risking his reputation and could tarnish, instead of polish, his cycling achievements with a sub-par performance in 2009.

Then, there's the cycling political intrigue -- will he join the team Astana, run by his close friend Johan Bruyneel who guided all of Lance's Tour de France wins? If so, what happens to current team leader Alberto Contador, who won the 2007 Tour de France title?

If nothing else, it puts cycling back in the American sporting consciousness as only Lance can do.

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